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A selection of photographs, prints and postcards. Some have personal or family connections
Darley Dale, St. Helen's Church, Ancient Yew Tree
Ancient Yew

In September 1863 the editor of "The Times" received the following letter from Darley Dale's Yew tree, protesting about the situation it found itself in.

"Sir - I am a helpless and most ill-used individual, and my friends have advised me to make my grievances known to you, as the most able and likely source to supply redress. To make my tale short, I belong to that class of national property which guide books call "objects of interest," of which this old historic country possesses so large a share ; but I am not an old abbey, nor an old tower, nor even an old cairn; I am simply an old tree. My residence is in a churchyard, in a very lovely valley in Derbyshire, called Darley Dale.

From the reverence which has been paid to me for more generations than I care to name, and from the admiration which pilgrims from all parts of the world who come to see me bestow upon me, I conceive that I am no common tree. My trunk alone girths 33 feet, but from within the memory of man I have stretched my arms across one entire side of the churchyard, and forty years ago the young urchins of the parish used to climb from the outer wall into my branches, and from my branches on to the church leads. My age is fabulous, and learned naturalists now calculate that I must have been born 300 years before the gospel was planted in this country ; in which case I was probably associated with an old pagan building, the foundations of which are still discovered in digging graves in my immediate neighbourhood.

If my memory did not fail me of course I could tell all about this better than the naturalists; but age has made me somewhat hazy in this respect, so I must leave my origin to the genealogists to settle. Well, sir, with all these claims to reverence, is it not shameful that in this year of grace 1863, men should cut, break, and mutilate my poor old person in all conceivable ways? Until tourists began to multiply and excursion trains to run, I had scarcely a single scar, older than time and tempest had left, on my body. But now the Snookeses, and Tomkinses, and Joneses have begun to immortalize themselves (as is the fashion of that race) by cutting their names all over my bark, and on Thursday last two fellows of this tribe commenced a still more cruel process. While one of them smoked his pipe and watched, the other drew out a saw, and actually set to work to cut out a great slice of my very flesh, which, but for the lucky intervention of the clerk, he would soon have accomplished.

You may believe me, sir, when I tell you that I quite dread the sight of an excursion train: and from all that I hear, I am not alone in these apprehensions. My fellow "objects of interest" are crying out on every side of me and all over the land that the Goths are coming again. Oh, sir, can you not repel these barbarians? The foe of all abuses, will you not make your potent voice heard to put an end to this abuse?

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Darley Churchyard, Sept 15th."[1]

The letter's publication caused some comment in the paper and a supportive letter was received by "The Times" a few days later from the "Two Trees on Oaker" (later One Tree Hill)[2].

The church historian John Charles Cox[3], writing in 1876, described the yew as "magnificent" and that it was "said to be the largest in girth and the finest specimen in the kingdom". He noted that Ebenezer Rhodes, when writing in 1817[4], had said "that the trunk, for about four yards from the ground, measures upwards of thirty-four feet, and that it then assumes the appearance of two separate trees, which rise perpendicularly from the parent trunk, and throw out their ramifications over an area of between seventy and eighty yards in circumference". However, in the intervening years the tree had been "shorn of many of its limbs". Cox observed that others had estimated the tree's girth as being thirty-three to thirty-five feet. He added that "a measurement that we recently took, failed to make the circumference thirty-two feet by a few inches, and this in the widest part, which is about four feet from the ground. Mr. Fearn tells us that there is a cavity in the tree, about half-way up one of the trunks, that will hold seven or eight ordinary sized men standing upright therein"[3].

Following a vestry meeting in May 1876 a record was made in the parish books as the yew had been enclosed "by a very handsome iron railing". A Manchester solicitor with no connection to Darley, one Charles Lister Esq., had paid for the railing to protect the tree from further vandalism"[5]. The fence, shown above, still surrounds the tree.

Although it had lost some of its limbs by 1890, R. N. Worth believed it to be the largest and most luxuriant in the United Kingdom[6]. The early twentieth century postcard at the top of the page shows the tree in need of some tlc (tender loving care) as there was die back in the top.

The yew, which still stands outside the south porch of the church, has added a further 120+ years to its growth since Worth was writing about it and is still a very fine specimen.

Church and Yew Tree
Church and Yew Tree, Darley Dale

1. "The Old yew tree, Darley Dale, Derbyshire". Trichromatic P.C. by J. Welch & Sons, Portsmouth. No.2485. Not posted.
2. Illustration by Nelly Erichsen from Firth, J. B. (1908) "Highways and Byways in Derbyshire" MacMillan & Co., London.
In the collection of, provided by, researched and written by © Ann Andrews Intended for personal use only


[1] "The Times", 17 Sep, 1863. To the Editor of the Times. The letter was also published in: Cox, J Charles (1877) - see [3] below.
[2] "The Times", 26 Sep, 1863. To the Editor of the Times.
[3] Cox, J Charles (1877) "Notes on the Churches of Derbyshire Vol II" Chesterfield: Palmer and Edmunds, London: Bemrose and Sons, 10 Paternoster Buildings; and Derby.
[4] Rhodes, Ebenezer (1824) "Peak Scenery" pub. London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, Paternoster Row.
[5] "Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald", 13 May 1876.
[6] R. N. Worth, F.G.S., (1890) "Tourist's Guide to Derbyshire", Edward Stanford, 26 & 27, Cockspur Street, Charing Cross.

More on site information about Darley and the surrounding area:
Magic Lantern Slide of St. Helens
Kelly's 1891 Directory, Darley
Derbyshire's Parishes, 1811
Pigot's 1828-9 Directory, with Matlock, Matlock Bath and Bonsall includes Darley names
Wolley Manuscripts, Matlock

Also see
Wolley Manuscripts, Derbyshire for more information about Derbyshire deeds, pedigrees, documents and wills

Joseph Whitworth - "Lives Which Hung by a Thread", a magazine article about the Whitworth Sharpshooter which now includes (Dec 2008) additional material about both Whitworth and the development of the rifle.

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St. Helens Church

Inside the church

VLA 5141,
St Helen's, Darley